Science Information

Hominid Inter-breeding

'Kenyanthropus platyops': - Perhaps the 6,000,000 year old men found by a maverick who went behind the authorities back at the Olduvai Gorge will be proven to actually not be outside the australopithecine lineage. But the Leakey family has found a 3.5 million year old human that definitely is, and it was announced after I had written the things related hereto earlier in this effort. I love how these synchronicities occur and how much there is for us to know about ourselves.

"The 'Gang' Hits Again

Those famed Leakey fossil hunters add a new limb to our family tree - by Simon Robinson, Nairobi.

Like other members of the famous 'hominid gang', the sharp-eyed fossil hunters employed by paleontology's Leakey family, Justus Erus spends three months a year scouring the dry, bone-rich riverbeds around Lake Turkana, in northern Kenya. It is a scrubby, desolate landscape, where the people are desparately poor and gun-toting young men are a menacing presence. But it is hallowed ground to scientists because of the clues it offers to early human history. Still, even after five years, Erus, a 30-year-old Turkana tribesman, had scored nary a hit-just bits of animal bones and teeth.

Then one scorching morning during the final week of the gang's explorations in August 1999, at a site called Lomekwi, Erus noticed a white object, just a cm or two across, sticking out of a patch of brown mudstone. 'I thought maybe it was (the bones of) a monkey,' he says. Beckoning the expedition's co-leader, Meave Leakey, wife and daughter-in-law, respectively, of Richard and Louis Leakey and renowned in her own right, he asked her opinion. By nightfall they realized that they had uncovered the partial remains of a humanlike skull.

The fossil turned out to be a totally new prehuman species and last week reignited one of paleontology's greatest debates: Did we evolve in direct steps from a common apelike ancestor between 6 million and 4 million years ago? Or did the human family tree sprout branches, some of which petered out? {No integration of Mungo Man, the 6,000,000 year old find, the Black Skull or many other possibilities!}

In the past 20 years the Leakeys and others have dug up overwhelming evidence showing that between 2.5 million and 1 million years ago, the then lush woodlands and savannas of eastern Africa-where our family tree first took root-were the habitat of rival species, most of which were evolutionary dead ends. But what about before that? Paleontologists have generally agreed that there was just one hominid line, beginning with a small, upright-walking species known as 'Australopithecus afarensis', most famously represented by 'Lucy'., a remarkably complete (about 40%) skeleton found in Ethiopia in 1974.

Now {Ha!} that view is being challenged. The new skull, described by Leakey and six colleagues, including her and Richard's daughter Louise, 29, in 'Nature' last week, pushes the presence of co-existing species back another million years, to between 3.5 million and 3.2 million years ago. That's right in Lucy's time. Yet it is so different from Lucy that they assign their fossil, which they call 'Kenyanthropus platyops', or 'flat- faced man of Kenya', to a new genus, or grouping of species. 'This means we will have to rethink the early past of hominid evolution,' says Meave Leakey, head of paleontology at the National Museum of Kenya. {Who didn't want the Dalhousie professor digging up the 6,000,000 year old bones on the Yale site, that he says aren't australopithecine, to upstage them.} 'It's clear the picture isn't as simple as we thought.' Even Lucy's discoverer Donald Johanson, director of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University, concurs. 'This is a reminder that there are probably a lot more species out there,' he says.

K. 'platyops' not only had a much flatter face than Lucy, she also had smaller teeth. From the teeth, the scientists conclude that it probably ate fruits, berries and small insects while A. 'afarensis' consumed tougher vegetation like roots and grasses. {The skull appears to have teeth as we do. This description of things bears little fruit of the nature of our ancestors or how they felt, thought and developed the things that really count. It would fit very nicely with the 'cave man' fiction and our 'gradually evolved' species though. Thus you can rest secure in the knowledge that YOU and especially the European (you) are the highest form of life ever found on the face of this planet.} 'They were unlikely to compete,' says team member Fred Spoor of University College London. 'Two species don't usually occupy the same ecological niche.'

Old flat-face could displace A. 'afarensis' as a direct link in the human lineage. Or it may be a part of a branch leading to 'Homo rudolfensis', a species with a strikingly similar face that lived in East Africa between 2.4 and 1.8 million years ago. 'You find something beautiful and new, but the conclusion is you actually know less,' says Spoor. 'But we are getting there.' - with reporting by Andrea Dorfman/New York." (1)

When all things are considered they are being disingenuous. Spoor or the others do know that the afarensis lineage is not related to us. As to the existence of super robustus australopithecines in the time, they don't mention that because the probability of 'occupying the same ecological niche' increases the likelihood that humans and hominids banded together and formed protection groups against these larger foe with ability like their own. That is a possibility I think leads to social and cultural development that would push the meaningful aspects of human life back a great deal further. The spiritual and communicational possibilities of commerce and ritual as well as dance and herbalism, expand as people form larger units. It is likely that sexual relations between different hominids occurred and made mutational potentials to generate genetic streams of over a hundred different types in Africa. To focus on Africa forgets Siberia (Diring entry) and Mungo Man. It loses sight of Gondwana where the genetic material that became all these hominids formed before the split to South America, Australia etc. This leads to many different places on earth developing hominids. Yes, there is much to learn; but if we don't consider all the facts we will keep our heads in a very dark place that doctors might have to use surgical tools like obsidian (as fine as any today) to remove. They have recently found an ape which the researchers think is a cross between a gorilla and a chimpanzee. It is still living in some numbers and I look forward to geneticists telling us what cannot be done while their colleagues say otherwise - some more. And those geneticists did so after I wrote much of this book. They found up to 1.8 million years ago that pubic lice which are only on humans diverged in North America.

Author of Diverse DruidsColumnist for The ES Press guest 'expert'

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